Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


South Africa’s World Cup anniversary

Last June I posted about the outcomes that might be expected for South Africa or any country that hosted a large international competition like the World Cup or the Olympics.

The evidence from economists was that people would be happier – but only for about a year after the event and psychiatrists were concerned that there would be a post-event depression.

Immediately after the World Cup in South Africa it was thought that the government would break even on its investment in airports, motorways, and high speed rail links but not as many visitors arrived as were expected and budgeted for. Nevertheless the improved infrastructure will probably have long-term benefits, as long as it is well-maintained.

It was generally agreed that there had been a show of unity, pride and patriotism at the time and the crime rates improved – a decrease in murders and robberies – despite South Africa’s reputation as one of the world’s capitals in murder and rape.

Now a year later questions are being asked. According to the Times there is a big debate in South Africa about what the benefits really were and who actually benefitted. There is a belief that there has been a transformation in the way the country is perceived and although only 2/3 of the visitors expected actually arrived they had a positive experience. That has resulted in an increase in tourists from the USA of nearly 20%.

South Africa has said it is not going to bid for the 2020 Olympic games but wants to: “focus on the delivery of basic services to all South Africans”. And that’s the crux of the argument for a country with a 25% unemployment rate and with half its population living below the poverty line. Recent demonstrations about lack of clean water, toilets and electricity (so-called “service delivery protests”) were met with deadly force when an unarmed protestor was shot dead (the police responsible are now awaiting trial as it was caught on camera).

One writer described the World Cup as “the greatest hoax played on the African continent since the World Bank promised development” and another critic condemned the £9 billion spent as a crime against poor South Africans. £1 billion of that was spent on the new stadia that FIFA insisted on rather than improving existing grounds. Attendance at football matches has reportedly increased by 8% but the ticket prices have been doubled to help pay the World Cup bills.

So has anyone come out of it better off? Well FIFA made a tax-free profit of almost $700 million.


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Faithful families outbreed atheists

A study of 82 countries by researcher Michael Blume at Jena University in Germany found that those where the inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children whilst those who never worship have just 1.7 – not even enough to replace themselves. He calls it the Reproductive Advantage of Religiosity and predicts that over time societies dominated by non-believers will die out.

The academic argues that evolution favours the faithful because they are encouraged to breed as a religious duty. Over thousands of years atheist have had fewer children and the societies they belong to are more likely to disappear as a result. This of course contradicts the views of evolutionary biologists such as Richard Dawkins who described religion as; “a virus of the mind” which imposes health risks and costs. But Blume argues that a tendency to religiosity has become embedded in our genes over time.

As well as the promotion of child-bearing, strong religious beliefs allow people to fit into their community and accept rules of behaviour and share tasks. This raises the chance of the children surviving and the religious people have far more of them in the first place with fundamentalists of all religions having the biggest families.

A Swiss census in 2000 found that “non-affiliated” women had the lowest number of babies at 1.1, Hindus had 2.79, Muslims 2.44, and Jews 2.06. These are averages of course and many larger families can be seen amongst jewish and muslim communities around the North-West of England. Apart from the religiosity I also wonder if  immigrants from poorer countries are “programmed” to have more children because of the lower survival rates in their own countries where they don’t expect all their children to survive.

The last census data in the UK showed that the birth rate among minority ethnic groups (not the same as religious followers I know) was growing at 15 times the rate of the white population The census report said that these figures were influenced by waves of immigration and the younger age profile of immigrants who were mainly young adults ie of child-bearing age.

Interestingly those groups which had been in the UK longest eg black people of Caribbean origin, showed no growth at all compared to black Africans with a 37% growth rate.

On the basis of this you might be forgiven for thinking that the more religious societies or countries are, the more social benefits they enjoy. Not necessarily so as there is evidence that the more religious the society the more violent it is.

Research published in 2007 by social scientist Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion and Society showed that: “religious belief can cause damage to a society contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and suicide.” The study also said that belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

This of course is the exact opposite of what many believers think viz that religious belief is socially beneficial and the “spiritual capital” helps to lower the rates of crime and other social ills. Paul’s research concluded however that: “In general higher rates of belief and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion, in the prosperous democracies”.

The study concluded that America is the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates are still high and that the least devout nations were the least dysfuntional. As an example the rate of gonorrhoea in American adolescents is 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The report also concluded that England, despite its problems, was actually performing a good deal better in most indicators even though it is a much less religious nation than America. There was an even greater difference between America and countries like France, Japan and Scandinavian countries.

Paul concludes that most Western nations would; “become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven“. He also thought that the theory of evolution would never enjoy majority support in America unless there was a marked decline in religious belief. If Blume’s research conclusions are correct that isn’t likely to happen. So bigger families for believers but a higher level of crime and other social ills. It sure makes it hard for non-believers!

A Californian sociologist called Phil Zuckerman published research in 2009 that showed that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes. Atheists were more tolerant supporters of women’s and gay rights than believers. People like the Pope, militant Muslims, orthodox Jews, and other fundamentalist groups don’t seem to view the world in the same way when it comes to human rights that we take for granted such as women being equal to men.

And a study in the 1990s of the American prison population found that only 0.2% (that’s two in every thousand) of them were atheists. Non-believers are more likely to indulge in under-age drinking and illicit drug use but the US states with the highest murder rates tend to be the most religious ones in the bible belt while the lowest murder rates are found in the least religious states like Vermont and Oregon.

Zuckerman also found that atheists and non-believers were better educated and less prejudiced and were more likely to encourage their children to think independently.

When it comes to aid-giving the most secular country in the world, Sweden, gives the highest proportion of its GDP. Of the top ten donors only America is a strongly religious country and oil-rich countries are nowhere near as generous preferring to export ideology rather than aid.

Source: Nick Cohen in the Observer (12/9/10)